The Great Humbling S5E3
Nodding my head and up and down through this one. You've tapped an enormous vein: the potential pleasure and sociability of manual work.
In the trades today there is a constant tension between the need to survive economically and the innate desire to slow down, do real crafting, make beauty and enjoy one's time with others. This is an eight to ten hours a day, five to six days a week question, the very nut of being a tradesperson. And it gets talked about a lot. There seems to be two types of people, those in love with the work and the life, trying to carve out of the "efficiency" mindset the ability to make beauty and fellowship, and others who crave money, who have figured out how to make it by doing things quickly and poorly, and often show up at job sites with the question "keeping busy?"
A couple years ago I was lucky enough to spend months on a high-end remodel where most the crew were committed to their crafts and damn good at them. Such a happy band of renegades in a work environment that was at times effervescent with banter and enthusiasm. Not so beautiful is the reality that only those doing "high-end" work tend get those opportunities. The poor, the immigrants, the less privileged end up on spray crews in toxic hazes whiting out walls for convention centers and such.
Last point: what you seem to hint at here is a politics of desire vs. directive, a deep ocean of motivation that got lost along the way.
I haven’t listened to the podcast yet Dougald but just to add here my favourite quote from the great John Berger, ‘the world is doubled by play’.
The relation between work and play reminds me of the conversations I had with old folk in the mountains of Asturias. When remembering the past, they all concurred that the most joyful moments happened during the most intense labour moments of the year (ex. Cereal harvest). Most of them would have been undernourished but worked hard from dawn to dusk; in the evening community would came together, celebrating and merry making. These old folks often commented, with perplexity, that their grandchildren didn’t work that much, often felt tired but above all didn’t seem all that joyful.
I knew then there was something to be learned from this. I underline that they were perplexed, not nostalgic. They knew well that that past is not to be romanticised. But they also knew of something precious that got lost. I think it’s retrievable. But it requires creativity and will power.
I have been thinking about this post since I read it yesterday.
It occurs to me that in my childhood, my working class family and our friends had fun. In the middle class life that I have now, there is much less fun. In the middle class world leisure time appears to be allocated for self-improvement, and there is a streak of puritanism.
I don't know if middle class life was always a bit lacking in fun, or whether the lack of fun now stretches across all classes.
As far as know any kind of fun, laughter, singing, celebration or even colored clothing were verboten and subject to severe punishments in Calvin's mini-fascist state in Geneva. Many/most/all traditional Calvinist church buildings were devoid of any color and very angular, essentially like court houses (places of stern judgment). And of course in England the Protestants sacked and desecrated many color-filled Catholic churches and cathedrals.. And look what the austere hard headed Protestant Cromwell did to the Irish Catholics too.
Listened. Thanks to you and Ed. Listening to the exchange with Roselle, I realized (again) that I never know quite what i will say to someone until I am saying it with them.
Work as play? An idea the world so desperately requires, but perhaps as a portmanteau (or "blend word"), which makes more sonic sense as worlay than plork, the latter being a construction as greenly ugly as "blog" -- one of those very strange words which could only emerge as an extension of the internet as an altogether other world, a beyond world all its own. A color of green associated with the underworld which comes up embarrassingly sometimes when one has had way too much to drink.
If we don't call it worlay, surely we must give it some other name, for it longs to have a name after all of these many years living in our upper world of light, trees, and grasses--under the brightness of the sun. Can our work become fun again?
To be fun, our work will have to become our own, a spontaneous exuberance emerging from our love of life. But can life be our own? Can it lay out its own measure? Can life be music again?
We used to sing
This struck me very forcibly after a few day’s listening to what remains of the birdsong in the NZ forests these past days, with Illich’s comment of how our music is unnaturally tuned in a Procrustean manner doing its depth charge work.
Our most primal instruments lost to us
My favorite apostle of fun is Zippy the Pinhead whose now famous phrase/calling is Are We Having Fun Yet! http://www.zippythepinhead.com
Have you ever noticed that Mickey Mouse was always essentially always happy. As such he could quite rightly be called a modern secular Icon of Happiness, especially as he is known all over the world.